House of Assembly: Thursday, March 23, 2023


Residential Tenancies (Protection of Prospective Tenants) Amendment Bill

Second Reading

Adjourned debate on second reading.

(Continued from 8 March 2023.)

Mr TEAGUE (Heysen) (15:59): I rise to indicate that the opposition supports the bill and indicate that I am the lead speaker for the opposition in so doing. In terms of where we are at in the debate, I just indicate that I have been handed a bundle of amendments—a rather small bundle—that I understand are to be moved by the minister in due course.

On the face of this document filed today, I just indicate that I have not more than seen those and read them. I understand that they may not be introducing any particular controversy to the debate and we will necessarily deal with them in the course of the committee when we get there. I do not flag that that creates any particular difficulty, but I do not propose to address those matters, of course, in what I expect will be my brief contribution just now in relation to the bill.

What we see here is that the subject of this residential tenancies bill is what I am anticipating is the starting point in terms of legislating in response to a variety of work that was undertaken through the second half of last calendar year, as I understand it, and in the context of a series of announcements by the government over the course of those recent months.

As has been explained by the minister and is apparent on the face of the bill, this bill is relatively minimal in its scope, including in the view of stakeholders, as I understand it. It takes an opportunity to deal with those matters that might be regarded as perhaps at the more straightforward end of reforms that might be undertaken to improve the circumstances of tenants and landlords in navigating what we all know are challenging circumstances at present in the rental market.

The first, and perhaps most substantive, of the proposed changes, to bring to an end a practice of rent bidding and the advertising of a range of rental amounts in the advertising, is one such relatively small, I hope, ameliorative step in terms of making it that bit more straightforward for someone who is considering applying for a rental to not have the situation in which they are having to contemplate uncertainty in terms of price.

South Australia, in going down this path, would be adopting what has most recently been adopted by the New South Wales Perrottet government and would follow on. I think we would become the fifth state to have a legislated ban on rent bidding. It is not, as I understand it, a widespread practice in South Australia, including for the reason that the Real Estate Institute of South Australia, at least that body and perhaps others, would recognise such a practice as a breach of its code of conduct. It is already conscious of that kind of practice, being a practice not accepted by it in this state. So here we would be bringing a statute into line with practice as is applied by the Real Estate Institute of South Australia and is already applied by the majority of jurisdictions in the rest of the country.

The corollary to that is transparency through advertising at a fixed price. Of course, when renters are expressing interest in a tenancy, they are, generally speaking, filling in a form of application for which they will get one shot. So it is not a circumstance that is generally amenable or suitable to an analogy of a live auction but rather one in which certainty is a benefit to all participating, and it is an unduly unfair one on a prospective tenant who would be needing to and having to present a whole range of information in terms of their suitability and capacity to be successful in obtaining a rental property.

To also ask that person to deal with uncertainty as to price is regarded, and reasonably, as something that can be avoided. The bill goes somewhat further in that regard insofar as it seeks also to prevent tenants from being characterised as having a top-level profile in connection with their willingness to bid higher or to offer a greater amount for a rental property in terms of those that provide profiles for tenants.

To that extent, it means that it will hopefully do away with a culture in which a response to a tight rental market means, on the one hand, offering in terms of a range and expecting that bidding would occur on a range, and that the characterisation or the relative recommendation level of a particular tenant by those who offer services in this regard will not be influenced by matters involving a tenant's willingness to pay a higher rent and to achieve a higher rating as a result. It will be a false pretext upon which to rate a tenant for those rating services and, rightly, there is a relatively substantial penalty associated with doing so.

Clause 5 of the bill goes on to deal with measures to improve the integrity of data management and use of tenant information. It introduces penalties for misuse and interference and loss and requires that tenancy data not be retained and, indeed, be destroyed three years after the end of the tenancy and that unsuccessful tenants' data be destroyed promptly within 30 days of a tenancy agreement on a property being executed, unless the prospective tenant consents to the data being held to support further applications.

It is another small step rightly acknowledged as being at the more straightforward end of the spectrum, in terms of what we understand has been feedback from the government's inquiry in the course of last year and into late last year, but it is steps, nonetheless, that we might hope will be supportive of an improvement generally, in terms of the certainty that can be offered to tenants who would go into the market for rentals, a more principled basis of assessment of the bona fides and categorisation of a tenant's capacities for rating purposes, and some fairly clear indications in relation to the use and misuse of data and obligations in terms of its retention and its destruction, which I hope will have the desired effect of increasing a tenant's confidence, in terms of the process of sharing their data, as necessarily is the case in participating in the rental market.

Those are the elements that I would highlight, in terms of the steps that the bill will provide for, and I highlight that the real work, the crunchy work in this area, is likely to be what is to come. I again flag my awareness, but not familiarity, with that small bundle of amendments that appears to have been filed today. We will look forward to hearing more about that at the committee stage. Otherwise, I again indicate the opposition's support for the bill as it is presented at this stage.

Ms HOOD (Adelaide) (16:12): I rise in support of this bill. In May last year, I was contacted by a local constituent of mine called Ariba, who wanted to share her experience of rent bidding. Ariba and her partner, Toby, had moved to South Australia from interstate, but when they went to try to rent a home they found that the advertised rent was not often the real rent at all.

It led to Ariba and Toby missing out on about 20 properties, wasting their time and energy having to apply for rentals that required them to offer higher than advertised rent in order to even have a chance at securing the property. Ariba was sick and tired of rocking up to a rental inspection, only to find herself at a rental auction instead. To use Ariba’s own words:

I’ve experienced firsthand the frustrations of trying to find a rental in South Australia after moving here with my husband from Victoria in 2021.

I was disappointed to learn that SA had yet to modernise their Residential Tenancies Act, unlike other states, such as Victoria. At the time we were looking for a place to rent, we were living at a hotel, and we were in the middle of another COVID-19 wave in Victoria and SA were contemplating closing the borders on us.

This added additional pressure to try to secure a rental, so that we would be able to relocate to SA before the borders were closed, as living in a hotel was becoming financially unsustainable.

I often missed out on securing a property because other tenants were offering more when they submitted their application. It creates an unfair advantage, and also wastes tenant’s time, especially when they have to take time out of work hours to visit a place for an inspection.

After listening to Ariba's story, as her local MP I advocated on her behalf to the office of the Minister for Consumer Affairs, and I am extremely grateful that the minister and the Malinauskas government took action.

Last year the Malinauskas government began a process to begin reforming the Residential Tenancies Act 1995, to better meet the needs of today's rental housing market, improve protections for renters, and to ensure that landlords can continue to manage their properties effectively. The Minister for Consumer and Business Affairs first announced a review of the act with the release of a discussion paper, marking the start of the most comprehensive review of the Residential Tenancies Act since 2014.

In addition to the review, the Malinauskas government identified immediate priorities like those raised by my local constituent, Ariba, to assist renters with affordability, protect renters' rights and privacy, and improve the housing outcomes for people in SA. This brings me to some of the key areas of this amendment bill. This bill will ban rent bidding, prohibiting rental properties being advertised at a price range while also preventing landlords or agents from inviting higher rent offers. In addition, third parties, which often include websites facilitating tenant application forms, will also be prevented from engaging in rent bidding.

The bill's provisions relating to third parties are intended to address conduct involving prospective tenants being charged fees for background checks, and an assessment or rating of their suitability being provided to the landlord or agent. This actually comes from really concerning reports that in some instances prospective tenants are paying for their background check and offering higher rent in order to be afforded a high rating, which is just disgraceful.

The amendment bill prohibits rent bidding by the landlord or agent, prevents a person in trade or commerce from providing an assessment or rating of a prospective tenant that is based on a higher offer of rent, and disallows a person from receiving or requiring a prospective tenant to pay for an assessment or rating of their suitability for a tenancy. A maximum penalty of $20,000 is proposed to apply with an expiation fee of $1,200.

The amendment bill also prevents landlords from requesting prescribed information from potential tenants on rental application forms. For successful tenant applications, information provided for the purposes of applying to enter into a tenancy agreement will also need to be destroyed within three years of the tenancy ending. The amendment bill proposes an expiation fee of $1,200 and a maximum penalty of $20,000 applies for these offences.

The amendment bill also provides for protecting tenant information. This is in light of recent cybersecurity incidents where individuals' personal information was accessed. The amendment bill contains measures to protect tenant information by prohibiting tenant information from being disclosed without their consent or as required by law, the tenancy agreement, a court or tribunal. Tenant information for a successful tenant is required to be destroyed after three years and within 30 days of a tenancy agreement being executed for unsuccessful tenants. Again, a maximum penalty of $20,000 is proposed to apply, with an expiation fee of $1,200.

The fourth immediate priority within these reforms relates to more affordable residential tenancy bonds which is being progressed through amendments to the Residential Tenancies Regulation 2010. Because of rent price increases, renters of even moderately priced housing are currently required to provide a six-week rental bond rather than four weeks, which is a significant challenge for those looking for affordable housing, particularly with the increase in the cost of living.

Currently, landlords can claim residential bonds equivalent to a maximum of six weeks' rent when the weekly rent is $250 or greater, with only a four-week bond entitled to be claimed for properties falling below that threshold. I think we can all attest to the fact that it is very rare that you can find a rental for under $250 a week. Increasingly, fewer properties are falling below this threshold, and the bond threshold will now be raised to $800 to ensure that for the majority of rental properties in SA, only a four-week bond will be required.

This change will reduce the amount of up-front costs for tenants between $500 and $1,600, depending on the amount of rent that they are paying. For example, based on the median rental price for a house in the metro area, the current bond would be $2,790 and with the changes we have made to the bond amount, from 1 April the bond amount will be $1,860, a saving for tenants of $930, which is really significant. The new bond amount will apply to any bond paid or payable under an agreement entered on or after 1 April this year. Any bond paid before this date will remain lodged with CBS until the conclusion of the tenancy agreement.

The consultation on the Residential Tenancies Act has concluded and Consumer and Business Services is currently preparing a report based on the 5,000 responses and 150 submissions the government received from the YourSAy consultation. I think this enormous response really does reflect how important these issues are for tenants and for landlords. As a renter myself, who has been trying to get my rusting bath replaced for more than a year, I commiserate with the challenges that renters in my community face.

The reforms in this bill are the government's immediate priorities, with further consideration and consultation on the broader review of the Residential Tenancies Act, which includes other issues raised in their review, which I know many in my community are passionate about, in particular issues such as renting with pets, longer tenancies and retaliatory evictions.

The Malinauskas government is serious about delivering on better outcomes for tenants and landlords, which is why we will be introducing further amendments to the Residential Tenancies Act later this year. As the Premier said, every South Australian deserves to have a roof over their head and to be safe and secure in a place they can call home.

The government recognises the extraordinary pressure the current housing market is placing on vulnerable South Australians particularly, and we are doing something about it. This bill is just one part of the Malinauskas government's plan for a better housing future, which provides responses to the challenges being experienced by so many South Australians.

Other policy announcements under our A Better Housing Future include increasing affordable housing, residential land supply, the tenancies reform I have just spoken about, private rental assistance programs, support for home buyers—in particular for regional housing, an area I am very passionate about—and tax concessions to promote new housing opportunities.

I commend the Malinauskas government for the biggest ever land release in South Australia, paving the way for at least 23,700 homes in major growth areas such as Concordia, Dry Creek, Sellicks Beach and Hackham.

As the Premier said last month, urban sprawl is not a dirty word and he rejected clogging up our suburban neighbourhoods with evermore infill. I cannot agree more with the Premier when he said he does not believe in urban infill at all costs. My community is so passionate about protecting the character of our local streets and neighbourhood that I know many will agree with the Premier in condemning that quote and that urban infill at all costs is just not good enough.

These land releases will be supported by effective roads, schools and other infrastructure and will take the pressure off inner metropolitan suburbs, while also providing young South Australians with a shot at the great Australian dream of home ownership. The accelerated land release to create more diverse and affordable housing will be underpinned by the formation of an infrastructure, planning and development unit, charged with coordinating electricity, water, sewerage, roads, schools and other infrastructure.

In addition to the residential tenancies reforms, in addition to these land releases, the Malinauskas government also announced more public housing, including building an extra 564 public homes and stopping the sale of another 580, which will provide 1,144 more public homes than under the plans of the former Liberal government.

I want to congratulate the Minister for Consumer and Business Affairs on this significant body of work. I think the level of consultation and the number of submissions that we received as part of this review really does highlight the challenge, the mountain that has to be climbed by many people who rent in my community, including myself, and I congratulate her on that significant body of work.

I would also like to congratulate my local constituents Ariba and Toby. Many people do not think that contacting their local MP will result in change but in this case thank you to Ariba and Toby for speaking up, for sharing your story, and allowing me to advocate on your behalf and see this change now on the floor of the parliament. I really do hope that this bill leads to significant change for you and other renters in my community. I commend the bill to the house.

The Hon. D.G. PISONI (Unley) (16:24): The member for Heysen has gone through the bill and expressed that the opposition is supporting the bill. I will just speak to some points on the bill. An important point for those who are following this is the removal of rent bidding. It should be noted of course that rent bidding is actually a breach of the existing code of conduct for REISA members. I think it is important that we understand that, as consumers, organisations such as the Real Estate Institute of South Australia (REISA), for example, do put standards on their members. They will not accept members who do not meet their standards. We see this with Master Builders and we see it with Master Plumbers.

As a matter of fact, I had a situation just this week involving a woman in her 70s whose hot-water service was not working. We still do not know whether it was not working because the flame was out or because it was old and it had had it. She fortuitously received a flyer in her letterbox from a company called Service Today, so she conveniently rang that company and they were there in a very short period of time.

They told her she needed the immediate replacement of her hot-water service, and the quote was for $3,400. She said, 'That sounds a bit much. I think I might just see if I can get a better price somewhere else,' and immediately the guy said $2,600. She felt very intimidated at that time but agreed to the $2,600 and paid a deposit. The new hot-water service was put in place, but we do not know whether the old one needed to be replaced or not. She paid a deposit, which did not cover the quote, and then found out that she could have had that same system for around $1,300 from numerous other members. I rang Master Plumbers who advised me that they were not members of Master Plumbers for various reasons because of their ethics, and so that is a matter that is now being dealt with.

That gives people an understanding that organisations such as REISA do require standards of service and standards of ethics from their members. If their members do not honour those ethics and those service expectations they will no longer be members. So it is terrific that REISA had this code of practice in place of not allowing rent bidding amongst their membership, and now it is becoming law.

Of course, there is transparency through properties being advertised at a fixed price rather than at a range. I know how frustrating it can be not knowing what the price is. I know that often, when a property is up for rent, particularly in the inner suburbs, up to 60 people can turn up for the open inspection. If you were going there hoping you could get it at the lower price range and once you got there you saw that there were 60 people, I think you would realise that it would be higher. This of course would stop any rent bidding. It does not actually stop somebody who wants to rent that property offering something higher, but it does not allow a decision as to whether that person is the successful applicant based on a higher bid to be the major factor.

I do know in practice, from what I have heard from the industry, that often people who do offer higher than the asking price need more due diligence on their ability to pay and their record as tenants. Real estate agents are already very wary. It is not always good news for a landlord when somebody offers more money, because it does raise red flags about the prospective tenant. Work is done to ensure that they have a record of being respectful as tenants and are able to continue paying the rent.

We do need to remember that about 120,000-odd properties in the rental market are in the private sector. The rental sector or the non-owner-occupier sector is predominantly a private sector business. The previous Labor government in their 16 years sold 20,000 public homes. That obviously put a lot more pressure on the availability of homes, and that has had an effect of course on our rent. I think we have about a 0.3 per cent vacancy rate in South Australia at the moment.

It is disappointing that, when the Labor government announced new land releases, there was no infrastructure announced with that, no funding announced for infrastructure to be put in place, so there are lots of questions about what that will do for housing affordability. There are no details about whether developers will be forced to pay for the infrastructure and then that will be passed on to the consumers or, if investors buy those properties to rent them out, whether they will be paying more for those properties and hence have to charge higher rents because there is additional infrastructure that the government is not prepared to pay for. None of those details were released.

The time line is years and years away. There is actually an urgent need for more housing. Of course, it is the supply that is the problem. The market is driven by supply and demand. If supply shrinks and demand grows, then the price goes up. What this bill does do is make things more transparent, and I think it does remove some of the stress for those who are looking for properties, because I know it is a very stressful time for people.

It is a lot different to what the Greens were offering. The Greens' Residential Tenancies (Rent Control) Amendment Bill really does show the red belly of the Greens here in South Australia, really across Australia. It does show the lack of understanding of the market. It also shows a complete lack of understanding of what the fix is for providing more affordable housing and more housing, and that is more supply.

There are some extraordinary restrictions placed on landlords under this proposed bill by the Greens: 'Landlord must not advertise, offer or accept rent greater than the indexed rent amount.' Can you imagine if that was in place now what that would have done to the rental market here in South Australia, where we saw about a 30 per cent increase in the last two years of the price of real estate in South Australia, if people could only reflect on the CPI in order to adjust that rent.

Imagine if you purchased a rental property from somebody who may have bought that property in the 1970s and had a tenant in that property for a very, very long time and the tenant was paying a rate that was much below market, because there was a relationship that had developed over that time and the landlord was in a position to do that. The landlord then decides to sell that building as maybe a fairly senior person and decides to do something with that money for their family or other purposes. Then the prospective property owner who wants to rent that out must then go to the tribunal to even charge a market rate under the Greens' proposed bill.

I was talking to Mario Lucci on Radio Italia about this proposed bill by the Greens and the phones lit up with people outraged that there would be people in this place who would even consider putting such constraints on those who invest in real estate and property, residential property in particular, here in South Australia, those who provide much of the rental housing here in South Australia.

There were some interesting statistics in the paper this morning that showed that the average ownership period of rental property is about five years, so it is not an easy place to be for landlords. However, a lot of that sounds to me like it is future planning. Younger people might be buying something to get into the marketplace but they are not ready to move into it yet, so they rent it out for a short time. People who have been living in the same property for 30 years and have brought their families up there might decide to buy something as they are preparing to downsize so as they can make that transition easier.

So we see the demographic, if you like, of those who buy residential property and rent it out, those who are technically called landlords, is a wide range of South Australians, and people have a wide range of purposes for being in that position. The last thing that we want is for any legislation to come out of this place that makes that harder and puts barriers in place. One of the things that I am proud of about Australia, and South Australia in particular, is that if you have a go you can get ahead. Obviously, the easier we can make it for people to have a go the better, but at the same time it is a real balancing act.

We know that there are people who are not in a position to buy a property and they will be renting, so the purpose of this bill is to make that task slightly easier. I am very pleased that there has been the consultation with the Landlords' Association of South Australia and REISA about the bill. I am confident that it will have a positive impact for tenants without imposing any burden on landlords.

There is always going to be rogue elements of any legislation or people who want to get around legislation. Will we be seeing rents advertised higher than market on the expectation that they can come down—in other words, a reverse option? It will be interesting to see if the minister is able to explain if the bill covers that, whether it does not allow reverse options. If you have a property you rent out, 12 months ago it was $500, and this time it has gone up to $650 in the hope you could get about $580, as people put their offers in that are lower than the advertised price. This will be a test of the bill. Under this bill, the way I read it, I do not know there was any intention to stop that from happening, and you could argue that is probably not transparent.

Something else that might happen is that if somebody offers to put in a higher bid, they might put in a much higher bid than is actually needed to secure the property because they are not aware of any other competition that might be in place. In other words, they may very well think, 'There are 60 people who have come to see this place, the asking price is $500, maybe I should put in a bid of $600 just to make sure I am ahead,' when there might not be any other bid.

This is, I think, one of the unexpected outcomes that we may see from this bill. I think the facts are that you are in the marketplace and it is very difficult to try to manipulate the market. I know that the intent of the bill is to support tenants, and I hope it does do that, but I guess my experience as a consumer for all the years that I have been on this earth, being in business for 22 years prior to being in this place, means I do know that many people see changes like this as a challenge of how they can get around those changes, or those rules, legally and not break the law. We are a very enterprising community. They are a couple of things that popped out immediately to me on reading the details of the bill.

Just in finishing, there will be a very large residential land sale in Fullarton coming up. It is on the market now—Highgate House—and is being managed by the disability minister. The amenity of that area, the heritage gardens for example, is important. The minister was kind enough to give me a briefing about Highgate House yesterday and I asked her, 'Is there any way that we can preserve the heritage garden that is in there at Highgate?'

The trees that are there are not protected, because they are not native trees, but that does not mean they are not valuable. They are oaks and other European trees that have been in the ground for 150-plus years and beautiful manicured hedges. It is an area that has not always been a public area, but in recent years has been a public area. It is certainly perceived as being a public area and used.

Unley has amongst the smallest open space of all the electorates in South Australia. We have higher density living, we have less parkland and we have tree canopy loss every year with new development, whether that be an extension of a heritage home or whether it be something being knocked over and up to six going up on the same block, and trees are knocked over in that process.

We are losing the equivalent of two Unley Ovals of tree canopy every year in South Australia. The Unley council has come up with a plan through the rating system that would actually monitor and reward people who have 15 per cent tree canopy or more after a development application. It is not for existing ratepayers, people who have not put in an application for development. Anyone who has put in an application for development will be required to have 15 per cent tree canopy at the end of that development in order not to get a 10 per cent penalty on their rates.

Some are arguing that it should be a one-off payment, but all you are doing with a one-off payment is you are in fact buying the right to knock every tree down in your development and not have to replace it, whereas Unley's plan of an annual review every year of the tree canopy that you have on your property carries more lateral thinking. It is not as draconian as what happens in some suburbs of Sydney and Melbourne, where you cannot even put a pool or an extension in if it is going to knock down a particular tree or reduce canopy size. It is a very good compromise that will see more tree canopy on private land, which is desperately needed in Unley.

Mrs PEARCE (King) (16:44): I know that many in my community want to see more affordable and secure housing and our government has listened to that request, not just from the feedback that arose from my community but also from feedback from people all across our state, both in our metropolitan communities and across our regions. We have listened to the difficulties that they have been encountering whilst trying to secure housing so that we can do our part to alleviate some of the stress where possible.

Whether it be the rising levels of inflation, which have increased the price of everything all the way down to the price of basic goods on our supermarket shelves, rising interest rates, which are pushing back the date for many who aspire to own their own home, or the challenge many renters are facing with the rising prices across the market that is only become increasingly harder to enter, we know that many are struggling when it comes to housing.

We acknowledge what a difficult situation this is for so many in our community, especially those who are worried about what they will have to do if they can no longer sustain their current rental. This is why, when we came to government, we set about reforming the Residential Tenancies Act so that it better meets the needs of today's rental housing market, so that it improves protections that are there to protect renters, whilst ensuring that landlords can continue to manage their properties effectively.

Our rental review has been performed in the context of all other Australian jurisdictions having already performed similar reviews. We want to ensure that renters here in South Australia are not left behind without similar regulatory safeguards in place to protect them. With the Minister for Consumer and Business Affairs announcing the review of the act last year, this would be the first time in nearly 10 years that the act had undergone such a comprehensive review. I thank the minister for all of her hard work that she has put into this space.

We know that the rental market today does not resemble the rental market back in 2014, and this is why it was so important that we prioritised this review. To assist renters now, we have identified immediate priorities to be introduced to assist renters with affordability, protecting tenants' rights and privacy, and improving housing outcomes for people here and now in South Australia.

This is all part of our recently announced housing package under our A Better Housing Future plan, a $965 million plan that will better protect renters, increase availability of affordable rentals, boost the number of social and affordable housing options, provide greater support for people trying to buy a home, provide new housing in our regions, and support our regional communities to build housing projects suited to their needs.

This is an immediate response to the challenges which are being experienced right here and now by renters in South Australia, because every South Australian deserves to have a roof over their head and to be safe and secure in a place that they can call home. With our economy performing so well, we have noted a growth in our state's population and we are seeing more people moving here to South Australia. From this growth, we have seen a strong demand for housing across all sectors, both within metropolitan Adelaide and now in our regional towns.

As our vacancy rates are at historically low levels, a supply shortage of rental properties on the market has caused a spike in rents. For many in our community, that has meant substantial increases in costs, leaving many prospective tenants and current renters struggling to find a rental property that is appropriate for them in our very competitive market.

Some people have sought to take advantage of this, such as in the case of rent bidding and requesting information from a tenant which may otherwise exceed what a tenant should reasonably be expected to give. This bill will address the issues of rent bidding and will take the first step towards standardising rental application forms by considering the type of information on that form to protect a tenant's information.

I understand that new section 47B of this amendment bill provides for information to be prescribed in the regulations that must not be requested of a prospective tenant. Further consultation will take place on this and may include information such as bond history, credit or bank account statements containing daily transactions and any attribute about the applicant that relates to a protected attribute under equal opportunity legislation.

Following consultation on the draft bill, a technical amendment was added to ensure the intent of exemption under s47B(2) is intended to apply only to a landlord or agent who is also a housing assistance provider. This is done to avoid a situation where the prohibition may have interfered with the housing assistance provider's ability to request information that is required to determine if an applicant is eligible.

In recent times, it has become even more apparent why it is so important to be protecting our personal information. We have all seen how vulnerable our information can be to those with a malicious intent, even when it is securely stored away online, which has been a reality for many South Australians who have in recent times been impacted by data breaches, including Optus, Medibank and, recently, Latitude Financial.

This amendment bill contains measures that acknowledge the need for privacy, and will seek to protect South Australian tenant information by prohibiting disclosing that information without their consent or as required by law, tenancy agreement, a court or a tribunal. A tenant's information for a successful application will be required to be destroyed after three years and for those who are not successful their information must be destroyed within 30 days, unless the prospective tenant gives consent to their information being stored for up to six months to support their search for another property.

Another immediate priority, which I am sure was a relief to the many who have contributed thus far to the review of the act, was our commitment to ban rent bidding through this amendment. This will prohibit rental properties from being advertised at a price range and prevent landlords or agents from inviting a higher rent offer. This includes third parties, which may often include websites facilitating tenant application forms, preventing them from engaging in rent bidding.

These provisions, as they relate to third parties, are intended to address conduct involving prospective tenants being charged fees for their own background checks. This includes for an assessment or rating of the suitability being provided to the landlord or agent because, strangely, some prospective tenants who have forked out for their own background check or who have offered a higher rent have been offered a higher rating. When you are cash-strapped, juggling a busy workload, looking after children and trying to get food on the table, there are only so many times you can fork out for your own background check, and for that to impact on your rating is even more unfair when the chips are already stacked against you.

Sections 52A and 54A will prohibit rent bidding by the landlord or agent, prevent a person in trade or commerce from providing an assessment or rating of a prospective tenant that is based on an offer of higher rent, and disallow a person from receiving or requiring a prospective tenant to pay for an assessment or rating of their suitability for a tenancy. This move to ban rent bidding brings us into line with other states around Australia, and while it was something we were being asked by renters who felt it was unfair, it is a move also supported by members of the real estate industry, such as Cain Cooke, the Real Estate Institute of South Australia's Chief Executive.

It will also give tenants who are lodging applications some level of certainty that they will be able to afford the cost of the property they are applying for without having to further plunge themselves into rental stress in the hopes of maintaining a roof over their heads and a place to call home. When we have a rental market as tight as it currently is here in South Australia, we need to be doing what we can to enable that certainty for prospective tenants, to not make it feel like they need to put themselves into financial stress to be at the top of the list.

Outside of these changes being progressed through amendments to the Residential Tenancies Regulations, the fourth immediate priority as part of our plan for a better housing future is for more affordable residential tenancy bonds. With increasing rents across the board, those trying to secure even moderately priced housing are required to provide a six-week rental bond, rather than four weeks. Landlords are able to claim residential bonds equivalent to a maximum six weeks' rent when the weekly rent is $250 or greater, and only a four-week bond entitled to be claimed for properties that fell below the threshold.

As is a common theme, much has changed since the previous substantial review of the act, and nowadays fewer and fewer properties fall below that threshold. With the threshold being raised to $800, this will ensure that most rental properties in South Australia will only require a four-week bond. For renters, this will mean a reduction in the up-front costs they have to secure between amounts of $500 and $1,600, depending on the amount of rent they are paying. This will apply to any bond paid or payable under an agreement entered on or after 1 April 2023, with any bond paid before this date remaining lodged with the CBS until the conclusion of the tenancy agreement.

I understand that CBS has a big task ahead of it as they prepare a report based on the enormous response of over 5,000 people completing the YourSAy survey and over 150 submissions received from the consultation. This is testament to the significance of this issue and the demand out there in the community to see some supportive change. I note that many important issues have been identified, and I am pleased to share that whilst these reforms here today are based on what are the immediate priorities for many renters across our state, we are not finished yet. More improvements are on the way.

Having been a renter before, I know how tough it can be having to look for a new place to live, filling out form after form and being turned down for so many places. You try to not get your hopes up for the place that you like the look of or is close to work because you know that the reality is that, just like so many applications you have made before this one, it could also fail.

You must take time out of what is usually an already busy schedule to go and view the houses. For me, this involved taking my two kids in tow and the whole time you are doing this you note the many others that are also viewing the same house, which brings back the reality of just how competitive this process can be. With some properties sometimes receiving more than 20 to 30 applications, it is easy to appreciate that applicants can really get worn down by this. At the best of times, it can be a really hard process to navigate.

But I think of others in my community and right across our state who are having to navigate this path right now under these incredibly stressful conditions. It is what drives us to get back up and speak on bills like this here today. There are many families out there right now, for example, trying to find a new place to live because, for whatever reason, they could not maintain their home. They are having to find a place to live that is located close to their kids' school, so that they do not let it affect their education, close to family or relatives that they may be caring for or require supports from, close to their place of work or still close to the vital services that they rely on.

We have heard stories like this, but they are more than just stories for so many South Australians. It is the lived experience for so many waking up and wondering how they will afford a rental property suitable for themselves or their family, all while juggling the pressures of life. It is for people who are in situations like that that we on this side of the house are taking this issue seriously, because everybody deserves safe, secure and appropriate housing.

That is why, during the 2022 campaign, we committed to investing in our public housing and building an extra 400 homes, with 150 of these being in regional South Australia, upgrading 350 empty properties and updating 3,000 homes in a maintenance blitz. We reversed the former government's plan to sell off further public housing, halting the sale of 580 public housing properties.

Our commitment to increasing affordable housing includes the likes of collaborative projects, working alongside the commonwealth government to increase supply for projects such as the $70 million Build to Rent project at Park Court on Greenhill Road, Eastwood, delivering 130-plus apartments, with 30 to 50 of these being social housing homes.

These are just a few parts of our A Better Housing Future plan—but it does not stop there. We have plans for residential land supply, greater support for homebuyers, regional housing and tax concessions to promote new housing opportunities. We know that the availability of housing plays an instrumental role in ensuring that our regions and our industries continue to grow and, indeed, thrive, and that is why I commend this bill to the house.

The Hon. N.F. COOK (Hurtle Vale—Minister for Human Services) (16:58): I rise to speak on the Residential Tenancies (Protection of Prospective Tenants) Amendment Bill. It is important to note that as we debate this bill we know that thousands of South Australians struggle to find a place to call home. The urgency of these reforms and possibly more to come following the ongoing review of the act—for which I commend Minister Michaels—cannot be underestimated.

I note the last time the Residential Tenancies Act was substantially reformed was in 2014 and this occurred after consultations began in 2012. Both that earlier legislation and the bill before the house today were brought forward under Labor governments. We have a long history of good work in this area.

Through the 1980s and early 1990s we massively increased public housing stock. In 1989, a Labor government founded HomeStart Finance that has helped more than 80,000 South Australians buy a home. In the early 2000s we established the Home Equity Loan that helped 1,500 social housing tenants buy a house of their own to call home. We established the Affordable Housing Innovation Fund that partnered with community organisations to deliver around 400 new homes.

When former Premier Jay Weatherill was housing minister, we started the first inclusionary zoning policy in Australia in 2006-07. This requires 15 per cent affordable housing in significant new developments and was paired with a policy that ensures these homes are offered exclusively to low and moderate income households before they go on the open market.

In 2008-09, when the Global Financial Crisis hit we worked with the federal Labor government on the National Building Economic Stimulus Plan. This program delivered $434 million for South Australians to build and upgrade social housing. I believe around 1,200 new homes were built. This included the largest residential building ever built by the Housing Trust, the Uno Apartments on Waymouth Street. That combines a youth homelessness service, public housing, community housing, affordable housing and market housing.

We secured $292 million under the National Partnership Agreement on Remote Indigenous Housing. This delivered hundreds of new homes and upgraded homes in remote communities, from the Far West Coast to the APY lands. Under Labor, this program was independently assessed as delivering the best value for money in Australia. We set up the Nunga loan. That ran until 2012 and helped Aboriginal families to buy a home.

Labor cares about housing in a way that Liberal governments, possibly with the exception of the late, great Thomas Playford, simply do not understand, although Thomas Playford may not actually even recognise the Liberal Party of today. He was a Liberal leader who invested massively in public housing, rather than doing what we saw from 1994 to 2002 and again from 2018 to 2022. In the 1990s and early 2000s, 13,000 public housing rental properties disappeared under the Liberals.

The report with these figures mysteriously disappeared off the government website under the previous Liberal government. It is okay, we still have it. Luckily, we kept a copy. The Liberals may not have heard of a thing called the Wayback Machine. You can run from the truth but in this modern world you cannot hide.

From 2018 to 2022, as soon as the Liberals got their hands back on public housing, it all started again. During this terrible period, public housing went down every year, more than $20 million per year was stripped from the Housing Trust budget and almost 200 staff disappeared. Playford would never have stood for that. Playford was a leader who nationalised electricity in South Australia, the reverse of what the Liberals did in the 1990s when it privatised. In a book published this week, former Liberal leader Martin Hamilton-Smith expressed his regret about what happened to ETSA in 1999.

Since the days of Playford that ended long ago now, it has been Labor that has flown the flag for better housing for South Australians. In fact, the history books show that the last time public housing increased at all under the Liberals was in 1982. David Tonkin was the Premier, police cars were baby blue, CDs went on sale for the first time and median house prices in Adelaide were around $40,000. That is how long ago that was.

The Liberal Party's housing policy at the last election was 85 words, talking about what they had done and not what they were going to do. There was no promise of extra housing. There was no promise of tenancy reforms. There was no promise of extra money—absolutely nothing. As the Premier said in this place recently, public housing went down in 29 of the last 30 years—both Labor and Liberal could have done better.

This is why our election commitment to deliver an extra $177.5 million for public housing was so critical. Our first budget fully funded this and expanded our commitment from 400 extra homes to 437. We added another $55.2 million at the Mid-Year Budget Review—thank you, Treasurer. Extra public housing funding now totals $232.7 million from 2022-26 and will deliver 564 new homes. We stopped the sale of 580 public housing properties and, together with new builds, we will have 1,144 more public housing properties in 2026 compared to the Liberal plans.

We partnered with the commonwealth on the $10 billion Housing Australia Future Fund and the Housing Accord that aims to support 50,000 social and affordable homes over five years from mid-2024. We landed our first commonwealth partnership in January for a $70 million Greenhill Road development and look forward to many more. We adjusted price points and income thresholds for affordable housing and doubled the exclusive listing period.

This means low and moderate income buyers get 60 days to arrange finance and make offers before affordable homes hit the open market. We formed the Housing Security for Older Women Taskforce that recently met with Her Excellency the Governor. We expanded the Private Rental Assistance Program by lifting the weekly rent cap from $450 to $600 and applicants can now have assets up to $62,150 rather than $5,000. This stops people from having to eat into their assets to rent a home.

We extended funding for domestic violence crisis accommodation that had been left no money by the Liberals and we provided $6 million extra for St Vinnies, Catherine House and Hutt St Centre, all losing homelessness funding under the previous government. We have done all of this in the Housing Trust and in our first year of new government.

These achievements are not just abstract sets of facts and figures. When we came to government last year, my office was inundated with cries for help from people who were facing homelessness after renting privately for many, many years. We heard about cases where rent was being increased by $100 or $200 per week. We heard about cases where substandard homes were being rented for exorbitant prices.

Every reform we make has a profound impact on households who just need a safe place to lay their heads, raise their kids and fully participate in our community and economy. It is not just the Housing Trust and my office that have been working to make life better in the housing market. My cabinet colleagues have been hard at work in other parts of the housing system.

The Minister for Housing and Urban Development is releasing land, working on the construction code and establishing the Office for Regional Housing. The Treasurer is working with HomeStart to help first-home buyers and low income earners to own a home of their own. The Premier keeps us all in line, having grown up in a house where his dad went to work for the Housing Trust every day.

The Minister for Consumer and Business Affairs is undertaking a review of the Residential Tenancies Act to make life better for renters and owners. The response to the review showed just how critical this work was. I was so amazed to see that we had more than 1,000 responses to the Autism Strategy consultation, but we have had 5,000 people complete the YourSAy survey for residential tenancies consultation along with 150 detailed submissions. This is an issue where people are crying out for action, and I just reaffirm that the Liberals did not do anything for four years. They avoided talking about this—they walked away from it—even as around them the housing crisis grew.

Coming from the review we have the bill before us today. As a first step to fixing this problem, the bill proposes a new section 47B to prohibit a landlord or agent from requesting prescribed information from a prospective tenant. This will reduce the amount of information that can be requested, reduce unnecessary burdens on applicants and better protect privacy. Importantly, the proposed section 47B(2) provides an exemption to allow prescribed information to be requested for the purposes of determining eligibility for a housing assistance program. This is positive discrimination, and I note that organisations like community housing providers may request this to help with disability and other housing challenges.

I look forward to working with the Minister for Consumer and Business Affairs on regulations for the prescribed information. Much has been said in the media and correspondence to MPs about rent bidding. It is tough enough having a low income and no stable housing, but it is another thing entirely when, in a tight housing market, suddenly it becomes the Hunger Games. We cannot fix every problem in the community, but a critical function of government is to set the rules so that the playing field is as even as possible. This bill proposes to insert new section 52A, requiring rental properties to be advertised as a fixed amount and bans a landlord or agent from soliciting or otherwise inviting an offer of higher rent.

A new proposed section 52B will also crack down on unregulated third-party operators who may charge tenants a fee for the privilege of applying for a rental home, or to get a rating score. The third main proposal in the bill is to protect the information of tenants and applicants. The commonwealth Privacy Act 1988 does not apply consistently to landlords or agents and third-party operators that deal with rental applications. In response, this bill proposes a new section 76B, which specifies obligations to protect tenant information from misuse, interference or loss, and also from unauthorised access, modification or disclosure.

It will achieve this by requiring information provided while applying for a rental home to be destroyed after three years from the tenancy ending. This applies to successful tenants who have entered into a tenancy agreement, and aligns with the period of time information may be kept on a residential tenancy database.

Parties who facilitate tenancy applications will only be able to keep information on unsuccessful applicants for up to 30 days after the relevant tenancy agreement is entered into. We have seen the disastrous results of recent data hacks where staff or customers, who have not dealt with the company for many years, have had the information released. We must do better, and we will do better with the bill before us. Crucially, tenant and prospective tenant information will also not be able to be disclosed without the consent of the person, or as required by law or the tenancy agreement.

I offer my support to the Minister for Consumer and Business Affairs as she continues her important work of reviewing the act, and I look forward to further reforms being implemented after careful consultation and planning. I do note the minister is getting on with other work linked to the act that is not part of this bill. I think that is very important. While some may choose to question the thoroughness or the fulsomeness of the response, I think they are missing that there is more work to be done, and that has been acknowledged, and that work is underway. I give my full support to the minister to get this work done, as does our caucus.

From 1 April, the threshold for a six-week bond changes from $250 to $800. That is a big change. The last time it moved was in 1994. I hate to think what was the number one song and the colour of police cars—I think police cars were Commodores at that point.

Mr Odenwalder interjecting:

The Hon. N.F. COOK: Were you driving one then, member for Elizabeth?

An honourable member interjecting:

The Hon. N.F. COOK: I can just imagine—and playing a guitar in the front seat. I digress. That was 12 years after public housing went up for the last time under a Liberal government, but it is still a generation ago. When the $250 threshold was set, you could get a three-bedroom home in Norwood for that price. Today, you are lucky to get a room in a share house for $250 a week.

The change to $800 will save renters big dollars right at the time they need it most. For those of us lucky enough to have stable housing, we can forget the stress and cost involved in constantly looking for a new home. It costs thousands to move. We can forget the extra costs of moving house, taking time off work, disrupting the schooling of our kids, having to make connections with new services like GPs. SACOSS would call this the poverty premium. That is low income households having to pay money for the same outcomes achieved by households with money.

Some people rent because they choose to, but for too many they rent because they just do not have another choice. For this reason we need to make renting better. The changes in this bill and the changes to the bond amount come at the same time the SA Housing Authority is boosting its Private Rental Assistance Program, as mentioned before. It is a great example of agencies working across government and moving in the same direction at the same time to support people who need it the most.

While it may sound like a small thing, the Minister for Consumer and Business Affairs has been making improvements all the way down to the forms on her department's website. For many years the standard fixed-term private rental lease form had an unfortunate inclusion. The section called 'Term of agreement' was blank and could be filled in with anything, but in small type just above the box were the words '6 or 12 months'.

With so many mum-and-dad investors out there with just one rental property, they thought the fine print on this government form was a direction and not a suggestion. As such just about every tenancy under the sun was for six or 12 months. I was thrilled, a few months ago, when this fine print was changed to '6, 12, 18 or 24 months'—so sensible. Securing longer term leases and more housing stability does not always require legislation; it can be helped just by improving the tools that people use every day.

In closing my remarks, I note that private rental has become a place where disadvantaged people are spending far too long in very challenging circumstances. While there are wonderful landlords, there are also some who seek to exploit people who are doing it tough. We also have many people who would otherwise have been in public housing but cannot get in, because it has gone down in 29 of the last 30 years, even while our population has grown. This group is effectively identical to tens of thousands of households in public and community housing in terms of income, health, disability and histories of trauma. The difference is they do not have an affordable rent and stable housing, and this often compounds their disadvantage.

This is why we need to keep making improvements across the housing market, from homelessness services to social housing to private rental and home ownership. Within our social housing system, we have many people who may have been in institutions in decades gone by or who have lived a life on the margins and have not had the support they need to develop the skills to manage relationships in their community or participate in our economy.

This changing face of social housing, compared to the Playford era or even to 20 years ago, is placing renewed pressure on the homes and the staff in our social housing system. In the coming years one of my great aspirations is to build better supports for the tenants both in social housing and in the private rental market. This kind of support is like the mortar between the bricks on a house: things fall down if it is not there.

The bill before us today is one of many steps we are taking as a government to improve our housing system, and I commend this bill to the house.

Debate adjourned on motion of Mr Odenwalder.